NUTRITION AND NATIONAL HEALTH

BY MAJOR – GENERAL SIR ROBERT MCCARRISON, C.I.E., M.D., D.Sc., LL.D., F.R.C.P.

 

MEDICAL men, chemists and others have written books and pamphlets on nutrition since the time of Hippocrates, two thousand three hundred years ago. Most of these publications are of very little, if of any, value. some of the dieticians have based their views on nothing better than prejudice, while others have produced the most terrible mischief by looking upon matters of nutrition from the point of view of the chemical laboratory.

The dieticians of the Liebig school taught that flesh creates flesh, that blood creates blood, that protein is the most valuable food substance, that vegetables, potatoes, fruit, are of little importance and that calories are of great importance. Food stuffs were classified according to the calories they contained or according to the quantity of protein, etc.

In their scientific classifications food stuffs were valued according to their “burning value”, and those portions which could not be burned were contemptuously summarized under the heading “ash”. Later generations 1A discovered that the so-called “ash” of food stuffs was composed of mineral substances of infinite value, of substances which are necessary to maintain life, and that there were in addition mysterious substances called “Vitamins”.

The analytical chemist has for too long been allowed to tamper with the food of the nation and to give dietetic advice. The analytical chemists are food spoilers and food fakers. They are largely responsible for the deterioration of the national physique, brought about by the refining of food stuffs whereby the vitally necessary mineral elements and vitamins are eliminated.

The short-sighted analytical chemists were followed by men who looked upon nutrition not from the point of view of the chemical laboratory. They studied the processes of nutrition not with microscopes, test tubes and other worthless scientific implements.

They went back to nature and endeavoured to learn the secrets of nutrition by experiments made on animals and on human beings. Among the experimenters on human beings a foremost position is occupied by Dr. M. Hind-hede, an occasional and highly valued contributor to this magazine.

Among practical scientists who have experimented on animals, probably the foremost position is held by Major General Sir robert McCarrison, M.D., who has done invaluable work, work which will be appreciated fully only by future generations. He has published some large and important works which ought to be read by every doctor.

He delivered, in February, 1936, three extremely important lectures on “Nutrition and National Health” at the Royal Society of Arts, and by kind permission of the Royal Society of Arts and of Sir Robert McCarrison I am allowed to publish extracts from these lectures. I imagine that everyone who reads these extracts will want to read the full text of these lectures and Sir Robert McCarrisons books.

Every doctor ought to be acquainted with the findings of Sir robert McCarrison. I myself have received untold benefit by following the teachings of this distinguished dietician. Many years ago I adopted the McCarrison diet for myself and I have given the McCarrison diet to thousands of sufferers and I have found that in innumerable cases the benefit obtained was magical.

I have given a natural diet, rich in ordinary broad bran, salad, fruit, vegetables, potatoes, milk, eggs, cheese, to thousands of patients suffering from the worst of diseases and even in incurable diseases, such as cancer and sarcoma, the sufferers have obtained untold benefit from the dietetic reform which I had initiated. I would express on my own behalf and on behalf of thousands of sufferers my gratitude to Sir Robert for his wonderful work. – EDITOR, “HEAL THYSELF”.

FOOD.

Man is made up of what he eats. The constituents of his food are those of which his body is composed. His foodstuffs, derived from the vegetable and the animal kingdoms, consist, for the most part, of matter that is living, that was formerly living or that is derived form matter that was formerly living. Man cannot himself build up living tissue from materials which have in themselves no necessary connection with living protoplasm. This, plants do for him.

Out of the earth and air, and under the influence of the sun, they transmute certain inorganic substances – mineral salts, water and carbon dioxide – into organic foodstuffs suited to his use and to the use of the animals whose produce or whose flesh he uses as food. He is, indeed, created out of the earth; and according as the earth provides, by way of plant and animal life, the materials needed by his body, so is that body well, ill or indifferently made and sustained.

In addition to proteins, carbohydrates, fats, mineral salts and vitamins, there are in food blood-forming substances, extractives, flavouring matter and pigments that have parts of greater or lesser importance to playing the nourishment of the body. The food must also contain a certain amount of innocuous, indigestible material, or roughage as it is called, to stimulate intestinal movements.

Besides all this, there is something in the freshness of food, especially vegetable food – some form of energy perhaps; it may be certain rays of light or electrical property – which gives to it a health – promoting influence. Certain it is that no synthetic diet that I have been able to devise has equalled in health-sustaining qualities one composed of the fresh foodstuffs as nature provides them.

Further, the quality of vegetable foods depends on the manner of their cultivation : on conditions of soil, manure, rainfall, irrigation. Thus, we found in India that foodstuffs grown on soil manured with farmyard manure were of higher nutritive quality than those grown on the same soil when manured with chemical manure. Rice grown in standing water – the common practice in India – was less nutritious than when grown on the same soil under conditions of natural rainfall. spinach grown in a well-tended and manured kitchen-garden was richer in vitamin C than that grown in an ill-tended and in-adequately manured one.

Examples of this kind might be multiplied, but these suffice to indicate ways in which agricultural practice is linked with the quality of food, with nutrition and with health. If, indeed, man is to derive all the benefits that the soil is so ready to yield to him, he must employ his intelligence and his knowledge in rendering it fit to yield them to him.

Impoverishment of the soil leads to a whole train of evils : pasture of poor quality; poor quality of the stock raised upon it; poor quality of foodstuffs they provide for man; poor quality of the vegetable foods that he cultivates for himself; and, faulty nutrition with resultant disease in both man and beast. Out of the earth are we and the plants and animals that feed us created, and to the earth we must return the things whereof we and they are made if it is to yield again foods of a quality suited to our needs.

The alimentary tract is very prone to suffer both structurally and functionally in consequence of faulty food and to become the prey of pathogenic agents of disease or the harbourer of parasites. Further, states of ill-health of this tract often provide conditions precedent to the development of diseases of faulty nutrition. In such circumstances essential constituents of food may not be absorbed in sufficient quantity for the needs of the body or for those of certain communities of cells, and disease due to their deficiency may arise.

Many years ago (1918), when the newer knowledge of nutrition was in its infancy, I obtained some dozens of healthy monkeys from the jungles of Madras. Some I fed on faulty and ill-balanced food deficient in vitamins and mineral elements, others on perfectly constituted food. The latter remained in good health; the former developed gastro-intestinal ailments, ranging from gastritis and ulcer to colitis and dysentery, while one amongst them had a commencing cancer of the stomach.

The passage of years has not dimmed the recollection of this crucial experiment nor detracted from the far-reaching importance of the results yielded by it. Indeed, there is, perhaps, no more significant fact in regard to the function of nutrition than that this highly specialized alimentary mechanism on which the nourishment of the body depends is itself amongst the most susceptible of the structures of the body to faulty nutrition.

Nutrition is affected adversely by a number of factors: imperfect oxygenation of the blood and tissues, as from faulty breathing, lack of fresh air, bad ventilation, over-crowding and lack of exercise; insufficient rest and want of sleep; over-work and fatigue; worry and emotional excitement; lack of sunshine; insufficient calories for the work the body has to do; excessive consumption of alcohol; indigestible food; gastro-intestinal disorder; and, many conditions of ill-health. But by far the most important factor is food of improper constitution.

The interaction of faulty food, faulty nutrition and microbic or toxic agents leads to the spontaneous appearance of many others or to their controlled appearance at the will of the experimenter. I know of nothing so potent in maintaining good health in laboratory animals as perfectly constituted food; I know of nothing so potent in producing ill-health as improperly constituted food.

This, too, is the experience of stock- breeders. Is man an exception to a rule so universally applicable to the higher animals? It seems most unlikely that he can be, although it is to be recognized that his requirements for adequate nutrition, and the effects upon him of deficiencies of various food-essentials, are not necessarily the same as in animals. Indeed, these effects are known to differ in different species of animals.

Nevertheless, the principles of nutrition are fundamentally the same in man and in animals. It may, therefore, be taken as a law of life, infringement of which will surely bring its own penalties, that the greatest single factor in the acquisition and maintenance of good health is perfectly constituted food.

FOOD AND PHYSICAL EFFICIENCY.

Nowhere in the world is the profound effect of food on physical efficiency more strikingly exemplified than in India. As you know, India has some 350 million inhabitants, made up of many races presenting great diversity in their characteristics, manner of life, customs, religion, food and food-habits.

The tribes of the Indian Frontier, and of Himalayan regions, the Peoples of the Plains – Sikhs, Rajputs, Mahrattas, Bengalis, Ooriyas, Madrassis, Kanarese and many others – exhibit, in general, the greatest diversity of physique. And as each race is wedded to its own manner of living, to its own national diet, comparison between them is easy.

The level of physical efficiency of Indian races is, above all else, a matter of food. No other single factor – race, climate, endemic disease, etc. – has so profound an influence on their physique, and on their capacity to sustain arduous labour and prolonged muscular exertion. “As we pass form the North-West region of the Punjab down the Gangetic Plain to the Coast of Bengal, there is a gradual fall in the stature, body-weight, stamina and efficiency of the people.

In accordance with this decline in manly characteristics it is of the utmost significance that there is an accompanying gradual fall in the nutritive value of the dietaries.” So wrote McCay, as a result of his investigations, a quarter of a century ago. My own observations have served to confirm his conclusions.

FREEDOM OF WELL-FED ANIMALS FROM DISEASE.

So impressed was I by the adequacy of the northern Indians diet that during the later years of my experimental work I used it as the stock diet of my rats. Their food consisted of chapattis lightly smeared with fresh butter, sprouted Bengal gram (pulse), raw fresh vegetables (cabbage and carrots) ad libitum, milk, the hard crusts of bread (to keep their teeth in order), a small ration of meat with bone once a week, and water. The average daily strength of the stock rats so fed about 1,000.

They were kept in stock for about two years – a period approximately equal to the first fifty years in the life of a human being – the young being taken as required for experimental purposes, and the remainder used for breeding. During the five years prior to my leaving India there was in this stock no case of illness, no death from natural causes, no maternal mortality, no infantile mortality.

It is true that the hygienic conditions under which they lived were ideal, that they were comfortably bedded in clean straw, that they enjoyed daily exposures to the sun practically the whole year round, and that the care bestowed upon them was great; but the same care was bestowed during these years on several thousand deficiently-fed rats, which developed a wide variety of ailments while the well-fed animals enjoyed a remarkable freedom from disease.

It is clear, therefore, that it was to their food that this freedom was due. If man himself did not provide in his own person the proof that a diet composed of whole cereal grains, or a mixture of cereal grains, milk, milk- products, pulses and vegetables, with meat occasionally, sufficed for optimum physical efficiency, this experience in rats would do so.

It is not, therefore unreasonable to conclude that if by minute attention to three things – cleanliness, comfort and food – it is possible to exclude disease from a colony of cloistered rats, it is possibly greatly to reduce its incidence by the same means in human beings and to produce a race whose physique is as nearly perfect as nature intended it to be.

Supposing now we cut out the milk component of this diet or reduce it to a minimum, we find that disease soon begins to make its appearance, especially if at the same time we limit the consumption of fresh vegetable foods. I have repeatedly made these restrictions with the result that respiratory diseases, gastro-intestinal diseases and maladies consequent on degenerative changes in mucous membranes and other structures of the body become frequent.

It is apparent, therefore, that the diet of the Sikhs is only health-promoting so long as it is consumed in its entirety. Indeed, we know that those of this race who, for whatever reason, do not consume adequate quantities of milk, milk products and fresh vegetables, do not long retain the fine physique for which the Sikhs are famous.

These food- materials are for them and in their own parlance, takatwar khurak (foods that give strength) which we now-a-days speak of as “the protective foods”, since they make good the deficiencies of muscle meat, refined cereals, etc., which enter so largely into the diets of western peoples.

Before leaving this experience, let me emphasize two things: the first, that all things needful for adequate nourishment of the body and for physical efficiency are present in whole cereal grains, milk, milk-products, legumes, root and leafy vegetables and fruits, with egg or meat occasionally. What is eaten besides these is a more a matter of taste than of necessity.

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